Urge for immediate Level 1 based on leaked Cabinet paper

A number of politicians have been pushing for an immediate move to Covid Alert Level 1, notably from party leaders David Seymour, Winston Peters and Todd Muller

Calls increased after large #blacklivesmatter demonstrations on Monday failed to observe number limits or effective social distancing.

A leaked Cabinet paper has added weight to arguments for a faster wind down of restrictions.

ODT:  Leak fires up calls for Level 1

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being urged to move into Alert Level 1 immediately in light of criteria in a leaked Cabinet paper that includes a 28-day window of no community transmission.

The most recent such case was reported on April 30, 34 days ago, but director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said the last cases of concern were actually from about two months ago.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and National Party leader Todd Muller, who quoted the Cabinet paper during Question Time yesterday, both used the community transmission criteria to push for a hastened move to Level 1.

But Ms Ardern is standing firm on making an announcement on Monday, saying there are other factors in the decision.

Ardern has said that level changes have been based on health and other advice received, but this make sit look like they hav been more cautious than advised.

From Question Time: 2. Question No. 2—Prime Minister

Todd Muller: Why is she so reticent to move to alert level 1, when Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said there is—and I quote—”no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m acting on the advice of director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He is the one giving us the guidance to remain where we are. He has expressed comfort with us making that consideration on 8 June, but that is not an accurate reflection of his views.

Todd Muller: Is it correct that—and I quote—”from a public health perspective alert level 1 means there has been a period of more than 28 days with no new cases of COVID-19 caused by community transmission and there is an extremely low public health risk from the virus”, as is says in the paper I have here in her name titled COVID-19 Alert Level Controls, which I understand was discussed at Cabinet yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows that we have made fully and widely available the settings of alert level 1, 2, 3, and 4, and in the criteria for decision making it does say, “trends in the transmission of the virus, with the threshold varying by alert level, including the director-general’s confidence in the data.” So, yes, we’ve included a period where we haven’t had cases—keeping in mind we’re only up to 12 days presently—but also the number of days where we haven’t had a case from community transmission, which was roughly about a month ago now. But that is not the only criteria. The director-general has to be confident in the data. We know there is asymptomatic transmission. We know there is a long tail. I would rather move once, do it right, and not continue to risk our economy.

But this ignores the risk to the economy of limiting the ability businesses to operate at full capacity. The longer the restrictions, the the greater the risk of businesses closing and and jobs being lost.

Todd Muller: When was New Zealand’s last case of community transmission?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said, it was at the beginning of May. However, that was not the last case that we had, which was, from memory, 12 days ago. I have to say I am alarmed at the suggestion from the member that, even with some of the loosest restrictions in the world, the member would still be willing to act against the advice of the Director-General of Health, open up before he has advised that we do so, and put at risk the huge effort and sacrifice of New Zealanders. I would rather do it once and do it right.

What Ardern is saying appears to be at odds with advice given by Bloomfield in advice given to Cabinet.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister: how can you match that answer with the fact that on 20 May you said—and I quote—”the last case of community transmission where the source was unknown was early April.”? That means we’ve had now three full cycles of transmission with no community transmission cases in New Zealand—60 days since—

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We had a case that was linked to overseas travel but the overseas travel was outside the period of infection. So the view was that it could either have been community transmission or overseas travel. Again, the member forgets that that is but one of many criteria that we take into consideration, and we must listen to the advice not only of the scientists and epidemiologists but also the Director-General of Health. If the member thinks he knows more than all of them combined, I congratulate him, but I would rather listen to the advice, get it right, and not risk our economy.

As happened also on Tuesday, Ardern had started answering questions with poise, but she seemed to getting increasingly annoyed with the persistent questioning from Muller.

I think Muller has been holding Ardern to account effectively here. Some seem to think each question should result in the resignation of the Minister or Government, but our system never works like that.

Some assistance popped up for Ardern:

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Prime Minister been advised that as recently as yesterday Australian states were reporting new cases of community transmission, and will the Government take that into consideration when considering the Opposition’s urging to reopen the border with Australia with urgency?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. We of course are mindful of the impacts of every restriction on our economy, on our businesses, but I equally will not jeopardise the gains and sacrifices made by those businesses by either opening us before we’re ready or moving alert levels before we’re ready. I reflect on the comments made by a small-business owner that they would rather live with the restrictions now than risk going back later on.

Ardern is trying to swim against the public tide here.

Todd Muller: Prime Minister, isn’t it time for a captain’s call on level 1 so that a team of 5 million New Zealanders can get back to rebuilding this country and recovering their jobs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have proudly made captain’s calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons that, alongside our team of 5 million, we are the envy of the world in terms of our position right now. I stand by every call I’ve made and that’s why we are waiting until 8 June.

Muller has managed to get Ardern to take responsibility for “captain’s calls” on lockdown restrictions and the slow and ultra cautious return to business activity.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister, why wait till midnight Wednesday, when the whole country needs us to be in level 1 today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the whole country needs us to not go backwards. The whole country needs us to move once and to do it right, and the whole country wants to move with confidence. The member does a disservice when he explains that the decision-making process is as simplistic as he describes—it is not. We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns. And I stand by every decision we have made to date.

Moving fairly quickly into lockdown in March was supported by a lot of the public, but Ardern is at increasing risk of getting out of step with public sentiment now the risks seem to have moved to negligible.

Ardern kept referring to things like “The director-general has to be confident in the data” and “We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns.”

This makes me wonder if Ardern and Cabinet (excluding Winston Peters who has been calling for level 1 since last week) are putting a lot of weight on statistical analysis of data.

There will always be unknowns, and there will always be a statistical margin of error – statistics doesn’t work with 100% certainty.


Community spread must already be occurring, further action implored

Nearly all confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand have been linked to international travel, and there has been no confirmation of contracting the virus via community transmission – but this may be happening undetected.

Epidemiologist Doctor David Skegg – NZ’s Covid response: We need to be more open

The New Zealand Government should be congratulated on many aspects of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is an urgent need for more openness about the current situation and the options for controlling further spread of this disease.

Community transmission

For some weeks I have been concerned by repeated statements that the probability of community transmission of the coronavirus in this country is low. Not nearly enough testing has been carried out so far. Since testing has been heavily skewed towards people who have been overseas recently, it is hardly surprising that most of the cases detected had links to overseas travel.

All the epidemiologists I talk with expect that community transmission is already occurring, at least in some places. Why should the virus behave differently in New Zealand than elsewhere?

Authorities have argued that decisions about testing are left to the expert judgement of clinicians. Yet some clinicians have complained about difficulty in arranging tests.

There have reports that even people with possible Covid-19 symptoms are not being tested because they don’t have links to anyone who has travelled internationally.

I know a nurse who works in an aged care hospital who was off  work with symptoms last and tried to have a test, but was told she didn’t need one as she had no travel links.

US Senator Rand Paul tests positive for Covid-19

Republican US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has tested positive for coronavirus…Paul has no symptoms and was tested out of “abundance of caution” given his recent travels

How many people with no symptoms are carrying and possible spreading the virus?

If this is common practice then community transmission won’t be detected because they are excluding that from testing.

People are surprised when I tell them that, allowing for population size, the epidemic of COVID-19 in New Zealand appears to be running only about 8 days behind that in the United Kingdom – a country that had no border controls.

The UK currently has 5,071 confirmed cases and 233 deaths.

We seem to be tracking a little behind Australia on spread, and they are making major moves this week, with NSW, Victoria and Queensland moving into lockdown on Tuesday.

ABC: NSW, Victoria and ACT jump the gun on PM’s indoor venue crackdown with early state-wide shutdowns

The Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and ACT beat the Prime Minister in flagging a host of closures across their states on Sunday, hours before the Federal Government’s crackdown on indoor venues.

In their announcements earlier on Sunday, the three states said schools would remain open on Monday, but Victoria’s school holidays would be brought forward to start on Tuesday.

Queensland set to follow NSW and Victoria in shutting down non-essential services.

Western Australia and South Australia have joined Tasmania and the Northern Territory in requiring visitors to isolate for 14 days upon arrival, effectively closing the borders.

ABC: Crackdown on social distancing sees pubs, indoor sporting and religious venues to close

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says parents can keep their children in school, but licenced clubs, pubs, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs and places of worship will close from midday Monday.
The following facilities will be restricted from opening from midday local time 23 March 2020:
  • Pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
  • Gyms and indoor sporting venues
  • Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs
  • Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
  • Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies).

Australia currently has 1,353 cases and 7 reported deaths.

Things are escalating in Auckland – Seven Auckland schools shut

Students of seven Auckland schools will be staying home today due to Covid-19 cases and precautions.

Glendowie College is closed until Thursday after a student tested positive for Covid-19.

Marist College for girls in Mt Albert, where a teacher has the virus, is closed, as is the next door Marist Primary as a precaution. It’s expected to reopen Thursday.

Mount Roskill Grammar School where a parent has tested positive for Covid-19 is also closed, however, this is a scheduled closure. The parent, who returned from overseas March 12, attended a school event the same evening.

A Randwick Park Intermediate School student is a “probable case” and the school will be shut for 72 hours.

Tests on a Pukekohe High School student and a Pukekohe Intermediate School students were both negative however, the schools will remain closed until Tuesday. The decision was made as a precaution to avoid difficulty communicating to parents over the weekend if tests were positive.

Another school in Auckland alerted parents Sunday evening a teacher, who is a close contact to a confirmed case, is now in precautionary self-isolation. The teacher does not have symptoms and the school is remaining open.

In a letter from the Ministry of Education parents were told the risk was low.

“The latest evidence shows that, unlike influenza, there is a very low risk that a person is able to transmit the virus before they have symptoms.”

At present the Government’s stance is that shutting schools down isn’t necessary as there is not widespread community transmission here.

There’s concern preemptively shutting schools could mean grandparents. who are vulnerable due to their age, would end up caring for children.

That’s exactly what I’m doing. A grandson is ‘immunne-compromised’ – he has type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease. We are taking him in and setting up in virtual self-isolation. I can do this because I can work from home. And we will talk to his high school about keeping him at home.

We see this as prudent because his other family contacts pose a greater risk – his father is still working which involves personal contact, he has siblings at two other schools, and his other grandparents work in exposed jobs – in a supermarket and as a taxi driver that does airport work.

The official stance on level 2 is that as a country we are not yet in lockdown – but the sooner that happens the more we can reduce spread of the virus.

The petition calling for moving immediately to Level 4 and a mandatory social lockdown has jumped to 55,000 signatures.

Stuff: Major benefits and dire consequences to lockdowns, expert says

The Ministry of Health says it will only encourage lockdowns in New Zealand if the local coronavirus situation changes dramatically.

But a public health expert believes a lockdown is critical sooner rather than later to fight the pandemic and save New Zealand from the catastrophic path of some other countries.

For now, appeals for people to self-isolate and follow social distancing remain pivotal to Government coronavirus strategy. But outrage is brewing about people who flout self-isolation guidelines and can’t seem to take social distancing advice.

As shutdowns loom in Australia, a comprehensive local lockdown now would offer New Zealand a “clear path forward”, Professor Michael Baker told Stuff on Sunday.

“All I can do is convey the epidemiological rationale for doing it very rapidly,” said Baker, from the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health.

“The alternatives are pretty dire.”

Enforcing limits in social movement could essentially suffocate the virus’ ability to spread, Baker said.

Baker expected Government leaders were already preparing for lockdowns.

He believed it was a matter of timing and taking into account logistical challenges, but said the sooner lockdowns came, the better.

Baker said he’d “be delighted” if a lockdown was announced immediately.

I want to avoid direand am concerned that Covid-19 may already spreading in communities.

I’m going to effectively lock down now – it will be enforced soon anyway, and protecting lives must be a priority. We all have this choice now.

Stuff: Close schools immediately, Teaching Council pleads

The Teaching Council has called for all schools and daycare centres to shut down immediately.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday, Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin made the call which she said was on behalf of 130,000 teachers.

The closure should be immediate, she said.

“As the voice of teachers, the council, on behalf of all teachers, implores you to act now and to move to Alert Level-4, closing early childhood centres and schools.